Developing computer systems capable of recognizing arguments in natural human language and engaging in debate is a great challenge. One of the most challenging challenges in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).
On Nature now scientist Noam Slonim, Israeli researcher at IBM, reports an impressive development in this field: Project Debater, an artificial intelligence system that can engage with humans in the debate. An AI that knows how to dispute.
The results, surprising in their own way, show how far research has come in this area.
Less than a decade ago, the analysis of human discourse to identify the ways in which a theme is used to support conclusions was far beyond computational capabilities.
Since then, a combination of technical advances in artificial intelligence and increasing maturity in engineering (alongside growing commercial demand) has led to rapid expansion.
More than 50 labs around the world are working on the problem, including teams from all major software companies.
Because it is not at all easy to develop an artificial intelligence capable of making a debate with humans
The structure of a controversy, of an argument, is too varied, too complex, too nuanced and often too veiled to be easily recognized. For this Slonim has decided to start a great challenge: to develop a completely autonomous system that can take part in a live debate with humans.
Project Debater is the culmination of this work.
Project Debater is, first of all, an extraordinary engineering feat.
An extraordinarily ambitious undertaking. And as with nearly all AI research that aims this high, a key bottleneck is data acquisition. It takes enough to calculate an effective solution to the challenge of making a machine argue.
Project Debater has faced this obstacle. It did so using a two-pronged approach. Primo, he narrowed his attention to about 100 topics of debate. Second, collects its raw material from large data sets, even by the standards of modern language processing systems.
In a series of releases in 2018 and 2019, Project Debater tackled a number of talented and high-profile human debates, and her performance was informally evaluated by the audience.
What is the outline of a debate with Project Debater?
Supported by its argumentation techniques and powered by its elaborate datasets, the system creates a 4-minute speech that opens a debate on a topic in its repertoire, to which a human opponent responds. He then reacts to his opponent's points by producing a second 4-minute speech. The opponent responds with their 4-minute rebuttal and the debate ends with both participants issuing a 2-minute closing statement.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of the system is that it struggles to emulate the coherence and flow of human debates.
Yet this limitation is certainly not Project Debater's “fault”.
The structure of the argument is still poorly understood, despite two millennia of research. Depending on whether the focus of research is the use of language, epistemology (the philosophical theory of knowledge), cognitive processes or logical validity, the characteristics proposed as crucial for a coherent model of argumentation and reasoning differ greatly.
The models of what constitutes a good argument are thus extremely diverse, while the models of what constitutes a good debate amount to little more than formalized intuition (although disciplines in which the goodness of debate is codified, such as law, are in advantage on this front).
It is therefore no wonder that Project Debater's performance was evaluated simply by asking a human audience if they thought it was "an example of decent debate". For nearly two-thirds of the topics discussed, humans thought this was the case.
The Debater project is a crucial step in the development of topic technology. These findings offer a tantalizing glimpse into how an artificial intelligence system might work with the web of arguments that humans interpret with so apparent ease.
Between fake news and polarization of public opinion, the need for human beings to be supported in the creation, elaboration and sharing of complex topics could soon become pressing.
AI could "train" human beings to debate (and critically).
In summary: Project Debater's challenge is hard, but it also represents progress that can contribute to human reasoning.